Mountains and Dams

Let’s make this easy on me:  we left for vacation on Saturday, September 23rd.  On Monday we pulled up roots from the good ol’ Totem Trail Motel and headed East to Winthrop, an hour-and-a-half trip that took us five-and-a-half.  We took it all in.

Originally, we had planned to do a short hike as we headed on over Hwy 20.  I mean, why not?  The drive would take us straight through the North Cascades.  Unfortunately, car prowls have been on the rise on the Cascade Loop.  Actually, car prowls at trail heads have been on the rise everywhere.  Sucks but true.  And, because we had coolers and a few bags of groceries/adult beverages it was impossible to stash everything in the trunk.  Exposed goods?  Might as well just leave the doors and trunk open with a sign that says, “Free stuff!”

So, no hike.  Which actually turned out for the best because we were able to take our time and stop at everything that looked interesting.  Obviously, there were a lot of things that looked interesting.

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First stop?  Gorge Dam.  I told you about some of the history of the Skagit River Project in my previous post.  The Gorge Dam was part of the series of dams built on the Skagit River to power the city of Seattle.  The first small dam was built on Newhalem Creek.  Construction on the second dam, the Gorge Dam, began in 1921.  A series of setbacks prevented the dam from producing power until 1924.  It was a big deal, though.  Big enough that on September 17, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge pressed a gold key in the White House and formally started the generators at Gorge Creek.

After wandering around on the trail overlooking the dam (sort of.  There were too many trees to see more than a glimmer of it here and there) and standing on the bridge cutting over the gorge (it was pretty deep.  And that bridge shook when large vehicles went over it.  Take my word for it) we headed on down the road.

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Next dam:  Diablo.  This is an impressively historical looking dam.  The architectural details are fantastic and it’s made cooler by the fact that you can park at either end and walk across it.

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Staring down the gorge side of the dam
Construction on Diablo Dam was started in 1927.  It sits five miles up stream from Gorge Dam.  The dam was completed in 1930 and, at 389 feet, was the tallest dam in the world.  Interestingly, the dam didn’t begin producing energy until 1936.  I Googled around, but couldn’t find a reason for the delay.  Oh, well.  It’s still a very cool dam and worth a visit if you’re passing through the area, particularly if you hit it at the right time of year.  What’s the “right” time?  Well, sometimes Diablo Lake is intensely (in-tense-leeee) turquoise as the result glaciers grinding rocks into powder.  That powder causes the color change.  Apparently, this is most common in the summer.  We, unfortunately, did not see it at it’s turquoise peak.  It was also a cloudy day, so hard to say exactly what color it was.  Blue.  Ish.

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Diablo Dam
We left the dam and climbed the highway to the Diablo Lake overlook.  And looked over.

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Diablo Lake Overlook
The final link in the Skagit River Hydroelectric project was Ross Dam.  Initially named Ruby Dam, the project was started in 1937.  It was renamed Ross Dam in 1939 after the death of James Ross, the superintendent of the Skagit River Project.  Built in three stages, the final stage was completed in 1953, thus completing the project.

Far as I could tell on the map, you can’t see Ross Dam from the road.  So, no photos.  Let’s move on.

After leaving the overlook we started to think about lunch.  I suggested that we stop at the Washington Pass Overlook as the map indicated there were picnic tables there.  The overlook is a short walk from the parking lot, so we went to take a gander before eating.  It was…unexpected.  In a very good way.

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The Washington Pass Overlook sits one mile above sea level.  5280 feet.  It is surrounded by mountains.  Most notable is the Liberty Bell Group.  This family of spires tower at nearly 8000 feet and are not a sight soon forgotten.  Below it, highway 20 spirals like a ribbon down into the valley below.

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We finally tore ourselves away from the view and returned to the picnic area for a quick lunch.  After eating, we dropped down on that ribbon, pausing so I could scamper into the middle of the road for an irresistible shot (it was Monday in September, traffic was very light and the husband served as watch).

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We dropped on down into the Methow Valley, pausing in Mazama to check out the Mazama Country Store.  Mazama means “goat” in the region’s native language and though we found ourselves wandering around the store bleating Maaaaaaaa-z-aaaaaaaama the husband couldn’t quite convince himself to drop $40 for a sock hat with a goat logo on it.  Though it was a pretty cool sock hat.

From there we wandered into Winthrop.  It was mid-afternoon and we were ready to pick up ingredients for spaghetti dinner in our cabin (to go with our red wine).  On the agenda for the evening:  relaxation.  How to start the transition from exploration to evening chillaxing?  A stop at the Methow Valley Cider House.


It was a soft landing.



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